MUSIC

BJ The Chicago Kid's "1123" Is an Underappreciated R&B Gem

While 1123 doesn't make as many grand gestures as its predecessor, the album's trimmed hedges give it mainstream listenability, while offering just enough idiosyncrasies to make it sound like something new.

In January 2017, 24 million people watched as a young crooner named BJ The Chicago Kid stepped up in a clean navy blue suit to sing the national anthem.

America watched with dread as Obama gave his final speech as the 44th president of the United States. Breaking from tradition, he delivered it at McCormick Place convention center in his hometown of Chicago rather than at the White House. BJ's rendition of the "The Star Spangled Banner" was as passionate as it was mournful. "As soon as I was off, I turned around and said, 'What just happened?'" the Motown singer later recounted of the experience. "Like, that's when reality set in. My hands were shaking like I was getting ready to sing, but I already sang."

BJ—real name Bryan James Sledge—appeared on stage as a stranger to many, but the singer's 2016 major label debut, In My Mind, had just been nominated for a grammy. BJ himself had received four nominations in total. His breakout project was met with critical acclaim and came at the tail end of a difficult 15-year grind for the singer. True mainstream fame has still eluded him, but he's always had a notable presence in most respected circles. He is a regular aid in TDE and has worked extensively alongside every member, as well as Kanye West, Stevie Wonder, Jill Scott, Anderson .Paak, Dr. Dre, and Anthony Hamilton.

Many call him a revivalist and a trendsetter, though BJ has never embraced titles and says he doesn't even listen to the radio. "I love what music is, but I just know who I am," he told Beats 1 Radio. His sophomore effort, 1123, likely won't achieve the attention it deserves, as it was overshadowed by the debuts of YBN Cordae and Chance The Rapper's latest, but its release alongside such mainstream heavy-hitters confirms that BJ truly tunes out the gossip and stays focused on the music.

While 1123 doesn't make as many grand gestures as its predecessor, the album's trimmed hedges give it mainstream listenability, while offering just enough idiosyncrasies to make it sound like something new. Anderson .Paak's rapping sounds especially silky alongside old school DJ scratches and BJ's illuminating voice. "Playa's Ball" makes the most out of Rick Ross's deep growls, while "Worryin' Bout Me" pushes Offset's bravado into a slightly new direction. The record is not without its snag—"Rather Be With You," and "Close" never truly achieve lift-off—but BJ's talent is electric. And while 1123 is not a genre-bending masterpiece, it's eclectic enough to remind us that BJ has already achieved monumental success and that mainstream fame is soon to follow. When it inevitably arrives on his doorstep, it will have been on his terms.

1123